A Cabarrus County father has sued his son’s schools, asking a judge to order the release of bus videos that he believes will show the driver in a “religious tirade” while operating the vehicle.
Harry Scheeler, whose family is Mormon, says his special needs child has been repeatedly subjected to unwanted conservative Christian influences by fellow students, teachers and the bus driver.
In another complaint filed with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, Scheeler says school leaders have failed to make “a reasonable effort” to separate church and state in classrooms and on school property. He says his eighth-grade son, who is autistic, has been harassed about his religion, and now suffers from anxiety that has led him to miss more than 60 days of classes. He said he began complaining to the schools last year.
“The school district … seems to intentionally turn a blind eye,” Scheeler wrote in his federal complaint.
The Cabarrus County Schools have asked the courts to throw out the lawsuit.
Scheeler, who also has a special-needs daughter enrolled in the Cabarrus schools, accuses the bus driver of openly talking within earshot of her autistic passengers of hell and homosexuality. He says she regularly commented about churches as she drove by them, alleging that some “had demons.”
On another bus ride, the driver said Mormons were “going to burn in hell,” Scheeler said. “That stuff is scary to my son because of his autism.”
Scheeler says the boy recorded part of the driver’s “public preaching session” on his cellphone. He says he believes another video will show the driver confronting his son over his family’s complaints against her.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Scheeler said the videos are public records that are being kept private by the schools out of embarrassment about the situation.
“There isn’t an exemption for embarrassment under the public records law,” he said. “I have a right to find out how badly my son was injured. He has ongoing psychological issues about this.”
In a March email to Scheeler, school attorney Sarah Stone of Charlotte said the videos are exempt from the open records law because they have become part of the personnel record of the bus driver.
“A thorough investigation has been conducted … and appropriate action taken in this matter,” Stone wrote.
Schools co-counsel Mark Henriques said Tuesday that the bus driver is still employed by the school district and that any personnel actions involving her are confidential.
“However, the school system does advise its employees not to share personal religious beliefs with students,” he said.
Scheeler, a former newspaper reporter and open-government advocate serving as his own attorney in the complaints, said the schools are trying to keep an issue secret that should be examined in the public light.
He blamed his son’s treatment at school, in part, on the influence of conservative Christian churches across the region.
“This stuff is seen as acceptable behavior,” he said. “One class of people do not own this country. We all get an equal share.”